A cat and bunny parent navigates her way through singlehood and dating
By Sarah Dahnke
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to think I was weak,” he says between wheezes and coughs. At this point, the scene is familiar. I meet a guy, we go out a couple of times, and he finally comes to my place. Twenty minutes later, his eyes are red and puffy, and he’s scrambling for his shoes and the door. Between last June and August, this exact same scenario happened to me three times. Only one man dared to cross my threshold more than once, and he’d only do so after taking a double dose of allergy medicine. After that relationship ended, I began to fear I was a magnet for hot guys with an aversion to cat dander.
I’m no stranger to cat allergies. As a child, I became a part-time and outdoor-only surrogate pet parent to one of my neighbor’s kittens because my dad was (and still is) deathly allergic to felines. To ease my desires to cuddle with a kitty at home, I had my mom decorate my bedroom with cat everything: cat bedspread, cat sheets, cat wallpaper, and cat figurines. It was only natural that as soon as I was out of the house, I started adopting cats of my own, but I had never factored them into my love life until I adopted my current feline companion, Ike. Then last August, when I brought home Rufus, an adorable Holland Lop rabbit, I was sure that was the final nail in the coffin; I’d never date again. Comments such as, “What does he do, just sit there?” or “Gross! Doesn’t he smell bad?” or “I hate rabbits. They have no personality,” made me realize that my ability to interact with creatures great and small was creating a serious wedge between otherwise potential suitors and me. How do I meet a guy free of pet allergies who understands my affinity for animals and perhaps lives with a pet or two himself? The ol’ “meet-him-at-a-bar” approach wasn’t going to cut it.
So I turned to the Internet. I found several dating websites for pet people that in theory allow you to meet other self-proclaimed animal lovers. However, after visiting a handful of these sites and searching for men in my age range and area, I learned that you don’t necessarily have to have a pet to create a profile; I was hard-pressed to find one dateable guy who legitimately had a pet, since most of them seemed to treat these sites like a poor man’s Match.com. I reluctantly went through the motions to create a profile of my own, hoping it would lead some cat- and rabbit-loving fella to my inbox. It did not. What I did receive, however, were several automatically generated emails about men in my area who were looking to meet single women. Too bad the majority of them were about 30 years my senior and didn’t live in the same state (some didn’t even live in the same country).
I was about to give up on this Internet dating thing when the clouds parted, and I found AnimalAttraction.com—a site that instantly set my mind at ease because of the abundant photos of people with pets. I created a profile and ran a quick search to find men who met my age and location criteria, and was rewarded with three pages of reasonable selections. I narrowed it down to four guys, to whom I promptly sent short, friendly messages. Then I waited for the dates to roll in. And I waited. And I waited some more. Apparently I am not attractive to the online dating community, because I didn’t receive a single reply. Time for plan B.
Meetup.com has options for people with any type of interest to connect, so I figured this would be a great way to narrow down my criteria and meet some new faces in a safe group atmosphere. Since I was only able to find feral cat Meetup groups when searching for feline people, I attempted to find rabbit people in my area. Success! A rabbit Meetup exists nearby and has about 20 members. Searching through the profiles, I noticed a common trend: They were all females. The Internet was clearly not working for me.
At the dog park later that week, I realized I had been overlooking a valuable common meeting place for pet people in my neighborhood. Since I am not a dog guardian myself, I usually feel a bit like a creepy stalker if I just go to the dog park alone and watch the dogs play together. But here was a place where dozens of pet people came to congregate on a daily basis, so I recruited my friend and her dog to accompany me. I eagerly struck up witty conversations with guys my age who thought my friend’s Basenji was mine. But when I would finally reveal that my pets were not the barking sort, I’d receive a knowing “Oh…” from my male audience, and the conversation would dwindle to nothing. One guy didn’t even bother saying goodbye. Lesson learned today: Dog people tend to stick to other dog people.
After so many failed attempts, I decided to end this little social experiment, realizing I don’t mind if my future soul mate has pets or not. I just want him to be open-minded enough to accept my furry friends and love them as much as I do. But I am sure of one thing: Next time a guy tells me that he is allergic to cats, I’ll be the one running for the door.
Relationship advice for the dating pet person
Deborah Wood is one of America’s most popular pet authors. She has written 11 books, including The Dog Lover’s Guide to Dating. We asked Wood to answer our most burning pet-centric relationship questions:
My new significant other is highly allergic to pets, but I can’t live without my group of four-legged friends. How can I keep everyone happy?
This is a tough one. A lot of loving, caring people have allergies. This relationship can work with a little bit of compromise from you and possibly a little bit of sacrifice from him. First, make your home as allergen-free as possible. [Then] create some pet-free zones in your home. If he is sleeping at your house, that means the bedroom has to be pet-free. Since you have a group of pets, they can have their beds in another room and keep each other company at night. Your significant other may need to speak with an allergist. Allergy shots can keep his symptoms at bay.
What if you’re dating someone you really like, but he just isn’t into your four-legged friends?
This is simple. The guy doesn’t have to love your pets, but he has to respect the fact that you do. If he tries to persuade you to get rid of your pets or makes you decide between your pets and him, choose the pets. You will be so glad you did.
I’m moving in with my boyfriend, and thankfully, we are both pet lovers. Unfortunately, he has a dog, I have a cat, and our pets don’t seem to enjoy each others’ company. Any suggestions?
Ahh….the delicate issues of step-pets. The rule for moving a cat is to give the cat time and space to adjust. He should have a special room of his own—where the dog isn’t allowed—[with] his food, water, litterbox, and toys. Once he feels comfortable in the room, I would put a baby gate at the door so the cat can hop over the gate and come and go from the room as he chooses, but the dog can’t come into his sanctuary. After the animals begin to relax, they will probably negotiate their own relationship.
My significant other and I agreed to adopt a pet together, but lately I feel like I am the one who is doing all the work, such as feeding, walking, cleaning poop, scheduling vet appointments, etc. Any tips on how to come up with a fair plan for sharing the responsibilities?
This isn’t a pet question; it’s a communication question. I’d sit down and come up with a division of labor. If he doesn’t feel comfortable with dog duty, you can also negotiate other things: He’ll clean the garage or make the dinner or do the vacuuming while you’re taking care of the dog. If he doesn’t compromise, you know what the rest of your life will look like.
For more information:
Pet Magnet by Bash Dibra
The Dog Lover’s Guide to Dating by Deborah Wood